Our summer schedule was bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S, bananas.
My children’s father, Billy, took a three week trip to Europe. Our son Simon was away for six weeks working as a camp counselor. Our son Caden left home for the first time to attend a three-week Zoology sleep away camp in another state.
We started the summer knowing we needed to make a number of changes to our regular week on/week off custody schedule.
We needed to shift days from their father to me to make up for the time earlier in the year when I was away at my graduate program. The only time their dad could book a beach condo was during my regularly scheduled week, requiring a week trade. We needed to accommodate the Europe trip.
As the keeper of our master online color-coded calendar, I was overwhelmed before the pool opened. We had nearly four week shifts in the total 12 weeks of summer. I usually check to ensure days are even, transitions are limited, and the children have time with their stepsiblings in each house and alone. Not this time.
Three weeks into the summer it was clear my careful balanced color-coding wasn’t going to work.
I showed Billy the calendar and told him what I was trying to achieve. His eyes glazed over. I am usually the detailed planner of our team, and this time was no different. Mucking through the calendar assignment was something I was going to be doing on my own.
That’s when it hit me. Why not abandon our schedule for the summer?
I reasoned that Billy and I are comfortable sharing 50/50 access to the children, and summer requires less structure than the school year. I didn’t want to spend time on a calendar that seemed to matter to no one but me.
“Want to just sketch out the schedule roughly and then play it by ear?” I asked Billy.
Billy, ever a big fan of playing it by ear, agreed.
And so our no-schedule summer began.
That’s a slight exaggeration; we had a rough week-to-week schedule in place. However, our transition day varied, the length of time at each house wasn’t consistent, and I gave up trying to make the days even and balance time with and without the stepsiblings.
We sat down and told the kids we were planning to be much more flexible than during the school year, and we were off.
Here’s what we learned when we threw our access schedule out the window.
The kids can take advantage of opportunities with either parent.
Lottie was able to join a 5-day trip to Maine with her father that was originally scheduled during his week. We shifted our schedules to ensure that both sets of parents saw Caden’s camp, Gabe and I at drop off and Billy and Stephanie at pick up. It was easier to allow the kids to join fun planned activities without worrying about shifting the schedule.
We are creatures of habit.
Gabe and I manage grocery shopping and bill paying when we don’t have children. We meal plan, coordinate calendars, sort closets, and squeeze in a date night then too. Usually, that’s four days a month. This summer, between our two sets of children, we didn’t have a kid-free day for nearly two solid months. The cupboard was bare and we were disconnected and cranky.
The kids didn’t like it (but still managed to work the system).
Our children want very much to spend equal time with each parent. Our usual weekly routine is predictable, and as it turns out, comforting. I drowned in questions about our schedule in this summer free-for-all.
“When are we at Dad’s?”
“Are you sure it’s even?”
“This feels like a long time without switching.”
It was harder for them to plan play dates and sleepovers. More than usual, everything they needed was at the other house. Their regular routines suffered: laundry piled up, summer reading happened in fits and spurts, and transitions were a bit rougher.
Simon, ever the 16 year-old managed to work the system by having friends over at his dad’s while his dad was out-of-town, violating one of our rules. We quashed that quickly, so even he, longing for freedom, wasn’t a fan of the summer of no schedule.
We aren’t ready for an open schedule.
I realized halfway through my three-week Europe coverage that I have grown used to managing our children within a regular, predictable pattern.
I need time alone with my children and Gabe. I need time alone with my stepchildren and Gabe. I need time alone with Gabe. While I got some of that this summer, I never really knew when it was coming. It was hard to plan.
Six kids together non-stop on long, lazy summer days is a recipe for disaster. Fights erupted and doors slammed. Children piled onto me every time I sat down, demanding one on one time that had been missing for weeks. The sink was constantly full and the fridge constantly empty.
I wanted to believe that because we managed our 50/50 coparenting schedule relatively well, we could manage a more fluid approach. I had starry-eyed visions of a flexible lifestyle that accommodated the kids’ activities and allowed them to move freely between houses.
Some families can achieve that flow state. For some, that’s a natural evolution of the 50/50 amicable coparenting relationship.
Not this summer.
Fall is coming, and bringing our regular schedule with it.
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